Massachusetts - Police union officials on Friday rallied around the white officer whose arrest of a prominent black scholar sparked a heated debate on race relations in the United States.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the Cambridge Police Department's actions after Sgt. James Crowley arrested Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct on July 16.

Police received a call from a neighbor that a man appeared to be breaking into the house. Gates, who returned home from a week in China to discover his front door jammed, entered his house through the back door. Police say Gates became belligerent when they spoke to him.

The president acknowledged he did not know all the facts about the case, but said the police had acted stupidly in arresting Gates, 58, a longtime friend, on his front porch.

President Obama said that the actions of the Cambridge Police Department were stupid and linked the event to a history of racial profiling in America, Sgt. Dennis O'Connor, president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, said at a news conference. The facts of this case suggest that the president used the right adjective but directed it at the wrong party.

Obama, America's first black president, pointed out that blacks and members of other minority groups tend to be stopped more frequently by U.S. police officers than whites.

The police have dropped their charge against Gates, but the professor accused Crowley of racist behavior, demanded an apology and threatened to sue the department.

A lawyer for the police unions asked Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who is also black, to rethink their remarks on the case.

We're not demanding an apology from anyone, said Alan McDonald, a lawyer for the Cambridge police unions. We think that if Governor Patrick and the president review all the facts, which they did not have before them when they made their off-the-cuff remarks, they would have commented differently.

Crowley appeared at the press conference flanked by more than a dozen police union officials and officers, but made no comments to reporters. He has told local media that he has no plans to apologize to Gates.

McDonald said Crowley has not decided whether to sue Gates over his comments.

(Reporting by Scott Malone, Editing by Jason Szep)